Series: It’s All About Jesus!
Sermon: The Lamb of God
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
January 8, 2017
Scriptures: Isaiah 42:1-9 CEB and John 1:29-34 NRSV
Today we remember the day Jesus was baptized and we’ll have the opportunity to remember our own baptisms as well. In studying today’s bit of the book of John, I admit to having to wrestle with the text. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a good thing to spend time reading the Bible and discover that there are things that, on first blush, don’t make sense.
We know from our Advent studies of the birth story of Jesus, according to the Gospel of Luke, that John the Baptist and Jesus’ families knew each other, and were at least distant relatives. So how could John say, not just once, but twice in today’s reading, “I myself did not know him”? This is what I wrestled with.
Some scholars surmise that John’s elderly parents may have died when he was fairly young, and having been dedicated by his parents to be a nazarite holy man it was possible that he was sent to live with the Essenes, a conservative Jewish sect, some of whom lived at Qumran, near the Dead Sea. If this is true, then there could have been a long period of time when John and Jesus didn’t have contact. This is conjecture, but it is one possible explanation for John saying he did not know Jesus.
The other possibility, and the one that makes more sense to me, is that we cannot take that sentence literally. Of course, John knew who Jesus was, otherwise how could John announce “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” as Jesus approached him at the river – and before he was baptized by John? The deeper meaning of “I did not know him” may have been to say, I had no idea just how special this person was.
It’s true that often we have no idea what God is really up to in a person. We may know them, like the people of Nazareth knew Jesus as he grew up in their midst, but, like those Nazarenes, we may have a preconceived notion that limits our appreciation or understanding. Remember that the people of Jesus’ hometown rejected him as a holy one, healer, and Son of God. Life there, as Jesus grew up probably learning carpentry from Joseph must have been routine. No miracles, no healings yet. They had no idea! Not until Jesus knew it was time, did he reveal to the world around him what was going on.
The other thing we must remember as we read the gospels is that these were not recorded until later. The book of John was written in approximately 90 A.D. and it is most definitely written from a specific point of view; Jesus is the Son of God, co-equal with God, through all time. So, what we read today is one writer’s version of events and just as witnesses to an accident all see things a little differently, we must consider that the gospel of John is not a literal transcript of events, but a telling in such a way as to make a certain point.
John the Baptizer baptizes Jesus, not because he needs cleansing of sin, but to fulfill God’s plan to announce to the world that this Jesus person is more than just a guy. He’s more than just Joseph and Mary’s boy. He’s more than a carpenter. He’s more, and gets marked by the Holy Spirit in front of the whole crowd, and John announces the arrival of the One he had been tasked to prepare the world to receive.
love Eugene Peterson’s rendition of this. He paraphrases it this way:
“John clinched his witness with this: “I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. [Jesus] I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ That’s exactly what I saw happen, and I’m telling you, there’s no question about it: This is the Son of God.” John 1:32-34 The Message
This leads me to ask, what happened at your baptism? Who did the baptizing? You may say “Reverend so and so” baptized me, but I would suggest that that person was only the vehicle delivering the water. It was the Holy Spirit that baptized you and marked you as a beloved child of God. And there would have been a crowd of people, your family, members of the church at that time, and maybe even your parent’s friends who promised to be your God-parents, should anything ever happen to your folks. God-parents isn’t really a Methodist thing, but many practiced that none-the-less.
There is a practice that is very Methodist, and that is that we are never to re-baptize someone, regardless of where they were originally baptized. The reason for this is that we believe that God never forgets. The Holy Spirit sticks. We may be the ones that have wandered off and ignored our place in God’s family, but that doesn’t erase what God did the first time. You will always be a beloved child of God, and God’s grace can cover a multitude of sins. All we have to do is ask.
Just like Jesus, the world may not understand what gifts God has birthed into us. In fact, we often sell ourselves short, not understanding what God has in mind for our lives. It’s never too late to listen to God and rededicate ourselves to God’s service. It’s never too late to serve Christ and do something that will make a difference in the world, in service to God’s kingdom. Think of all the people in the Bible who didn’t do the thing they were famous for until they were old: Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Elizabeth and Zechariah, just to name a few.
God can use us at any age or stage of life, so today I invite you to remember your baptism and rededicate yourself to serving God’s purposes in 2017. After I say a prayer over this water, you are welcome to come up, dip your fingers in and trace a cross on your forehead, if you like. Offer a prayer…talk to God…ask Jesus to help you get past whatever stands in your way as you seek to serve him more completely.
This is the year of the Disciple; we will live into our baptisms, living out our spiritual destiny that God has in mind for us. Become the follower of Christ, the disciple, that God wants you to be. Let the blessing of the Holy Spirit touch your heart and make you whole. Amen. (Invitation to baptism for any that had not previously been…)